After a busy two days in Rio de Janeiro, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden departed yesterday afternoon for Brasília, where he meets today with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer. While Biden’s visit partly touched on issues of public security—he toured the Santa Marta favela, the first community in Rio to have an Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Police Pacification Unit—UPP) installed—his chief objective was to press for expanded bilateral trade and investment ties.
Biden’s message to Brazil: the world is rapidly liberalizing trade and opening markets, and it’s time to keep up. On Wednesday, he urged Brazilians to “resist the urge in difficult economic times for protectionism.”
U.S. companies complain that Brazil has set up excessive trade barriers, a complicated tax system, local content requirements that give preference to Brazilian industry, and inadequate intellectual property rights. But Brazilians counter that U.S. monetary policy makes Brazilian products more expensive overseas, and that U.S. subsidies to its own farming sector limit competition from Brazil’s strong agricultural economy.
Despite the disagreements, Americans and Brazilians can point to plenty of successful collaborations. Brazilian aerospace conglomerate Embraer won a U.S. Air Force contract for 20 aircraft, officially authorized in March, and is cooperating with U.S.-based Boeing to develop the KC-390 military jet. Boeing, for its part, is a finalist for a 36-aircraft, $4 billion contract by the Brazilian Air Force.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s vast pre-salt reserves, coupled with the United States’ own discovery and extraction of shale gas, make the two energy powerhouses natural partners. Brazil’s auction this month of 142 oil blocks—the first licensing in five years—brought in $1.4 billion from various buyers, including U.S. firms ExxonMobil and Chevron. The Brazilian government is even moving up the first auction date of the pre-salt reserves to October to cope with the demand.
The National Council of Justice of Brazil, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, ruled yesterday that government licensing offices cannot deny homosexual couples marriage licenses. The ruling is expected to accelerate a law legalizing same-sex marriage in the Brazilian Congress.
Basing their decision on the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling that recognizes same-sex civil unions and guarantees homosexual and heterosexual couples the same rights under the constitution, the council ruling bars notary publics from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling also calls for government licensing offices to convert a civil union into a marriage if requested by the couple. While 14 of Brazil’s 27 states have already legalized same-sex marriage, national legislation has failed to pass the Brazilian Congress, which has a strong religious faction.
Barbosa rejected the notion that a congressional decision was necessary to begin issuing marriage licenses. "Are we going to require the approval of a new law by the Congress to put into effect the decision that was already taken by the Supreme Court? It makes no sense," he said on Tuesday, adding that the high court’s decision should be followed by the lower courts as it “is binding." A challenge of the council’s decision by the Supreme Court is not likely.
Should Congress act and pass legislation regarding same-sex marriage this year, Brazil would follow Argentina and Uruguay and become the third Latin American country to legalize gay marriage.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro marked the end of his three-day trip through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil yesterday with a meeting in Brasilia with President Dilma Rousseff to highlight Venezuela’s strategic alliance with Brazil.
Maduro traveled to Mercosur member countries for his first trip post-presidential election in an effort to consolidate bilateral ties. In Uruguay, his first stop, the Venezuelan president met with President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, and pledged a “permanent” supply of petroleum. He continued on to Argentina, where he signed 11 bilateral agreements with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and gave a public address at a soccer stadium where he invoked the legacies of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as well as deceased Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.
In Brazil, his final stop, Maduro received a firm endorsement from President Rousseff. The two leaders announced that Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht will construct a 1.5-million-tonne-a-year urea plant in Venezuela. Venezuela is the second largest market, after Argentina, for Brazilian manufactured goods.
The international trip also carries domestic implications. Eduardo Viola, International Relations professor from Universidad de Brasilia said that “with this trip to Mercosur member countries whose leaders have demonstrated support, Maduro seeks to legitimize his situation, highly questionable in his country, not only because of the tight electoral results questioned by the opposition but also because of the grave economic and public safety conditions which are bleak.”
While an audit of Venezuelan election results began this week, nearly every nation in the region has accepted Maduro's presidency.
Roberto Azevêdo, Brazil’s current ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), will succeed Pascal Lamy as the director-general of the organization on September 1, 2013, becoming the first Latin American to head the WTO since its creation in 1995. A formal announcement is expected today.
Azevêdo claimed the spot over Herminio Blanco, Mexico’s former Trade Minister and chief negotiator for the North America Free-Trade Agreement, in the final round of the six-month selection process which began in December. While Blanco had the support of the influential members such as the European Union, a majority of the WTO’s 159 member-states voted in favor of the Brazilian. Some analysts believe that Brazil’s active role in protecting the interests of developing countries during global trade negotiations contributed to Azevêdo’s popularity.
Azevêdo, who first joined the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the WTO in 1997, will face several challenges as director-general. He will be responsible for reviving the Doha round of talks, which were officially launched in 2001, and maintaining the organization’s relevance as regional and bilateral trade agreements grow in scope. Azevêdo will head his first biennial meeting in Bali, Indonesia this December.
It’s not hard to imagine what was behind Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota’s announcement yesterday that Brazil will hire 6,000 Cuban doctors to work in rural parts of Brazil.
As the situation in Venezuela continues to teeter in uncertainty, the Brazilian government has thrown the Cuban government another lifeline. Doing so provides a cushion for a sinking Castro regime that has been kept afloat by the roughly 100,000 barrels of oil per day that Venezuela has sent to Cuba since 2005.
In return, the Cuban government has provided over 30,000 doctors, sports trainers, and advisors at terms very favorable to Cuba. (You think U.S. healthcare costs are high? Imagine the cost of Cuban doctors. Assuming 30,000 of them at $100 per barrel of oil, those guys are worth the equivalent of $333 per day!) The artificially-inflated cost of doctors aside, it’s the sports trainers and advisors that are the concern. I must confess, I have no idea what a Cuban sports trainer is (though I assume he would look something like this.) In reality, they likely provide a service very similar to the advisors: the political counseling, intelligence and military training, propaganda dissemination, and intelligence gathering that has been key to the chavista government’s ability to consolidate its power.
For those advisors, President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro’s unexpected poor showing in the election presents a zero-sum game. If they cannot shore up the anointed heir of former President Chávez, they may very well lose their lifeline. For that reason, many have speculated that the Cubans are working overtime to help President Maduro. (Though, quite frankly, Maduro’s recent vitriolic attacks on the opposition and the United States seem more like those of a wounded animal than an expression of the subtle, strategic advice one would expect from seasoned intelligence agents.)
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embarked today on a three-day tour of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, all members of Mercosur (The Common Market of the South). Following Paraguay’s suspension from the free-trade group, Venezuela joined Mercosur last year and will assume the bloc’s temporary presidency for the first time on June 28 during a summit in Montevideo.
During a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro announced that he would visit the other Mercosur countries to “continue bringing forward a perfect equation of financial, energy, cultural and political integration.”
In Uruguay, Maduro will meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, union leaders and the electrical transformer company Urutransfor. Members of the Uruguayan opposition have criticized Maduro’s visit as “tactless and inconvenient” because of the current political tensions that exist in Venezuela. Later this week, Maduro will meet Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia to discuss the next steps for the regional bloc.
In an incident that may have escaped notice internationally, three taxi drivers were shot to death recently in Santana do Livramento, a small Brazilian town on the border with Rivera, Uruguay. The incident deeply frightened many in the region and drew heightened attention when, just 48 hours later, three more drivers were shot in Porto Alegre—a southern Brazilian city about 300 miles from the border.
Santana do Livramento and Rivera are both known for their tranquility, as well as the easy walk across the border with little risk of being stopped by authorities. The police quickly denied a connection to organized crime—a claim confirmed when 21-year-old Lucas Barcelos Silva, a disgruntled former member of the Brazilian army with a criminal record, confessed to all six killings, claiming that he was angry about his unemployment. In 2010, he was dismissed from the Brazilian Army due to “lack of discipline and erratic behavior,” and has several robberies on his record.
Although the homicides were unrelated to organized crime, they renewed concerns about border control in Brazil and Uruguay. According to the Civil Police of Rio Grande do Sul, Silva used a .22 pistol—a semi-automatic weapon banned in Brazil since 1997 that is common in Uruguay and Argentina. Silva testified that the pistol came from a 15-year-old friend in Santana do Livramento, who likely acquired it in Uruguay or Argentina and smuggled it across the border.
A lack of border security personnel makes Brazil’s approximately 10,625 miles of border especially porous to drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking. The Brazilian Federal Police employs only 900 agents to monitor its border with eight countries. By comparison, the United States employs approximately 21,400 border patrol agents to control its 1,969-mile border with Mexico and 5,525-mile border with Canada. Making matters worse is the fact that officers on the Brazil-Uruguay border often pass over locals in searches to avoid holding up commuter traffic.
Last September, the Brazilian government released a study, Vozes da Classe Média (Voices of the Middle Class), noting that 53 percent of Brazilians are currently in the middle class. Of these, 80 percent are Afro-Brazilian. The data was covered extensively in the Brazilian press and sparked a debate about the extent to which Brazil’s recent economic growth has generated an improved standard of living for its overall population.
On one side, optimists celebrated the data, which showed improved social mobility for about 30 million people.
The Brazilian middle class is the third fastest growing in the world, trailing only India and China. Brazil’s middle class is urban, concentrated in the southeast (45 percent) and fascinated with technology. According to the Voices of Brazil study, if this social class were a country, it would be the twelfth most populous country in the world with 104 million people, just below Mexico.
On the other hand, skeptics said that Brazil’s middle class was different from the middle class in countries like the United States, where the middle class not only consumes goods and services but is also educated and enjoys an overall strong quality of life. Brazil’s historical lack of investment in education, its violence and its high levels of corruption have been barriers to complete social growth.
Last month, leaders of Brazil’s rural women’s movement met with their country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, in Brasilia to press for new national policies addressing domestic violence in Brazil. The Primeiro Encontro Nacional do Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas (First National Encounter of the Rural Women’s Movement) brought together approximately 3,000 activists from 22 Brazilian states. “Honoring the women of my country is my way of expressing what I owe to rural women, women workers, and what I owe to all of Brazil’s women,” Rousseff told the audience.
As Brazilian activists mobilize for International Women’s Day today, they know that this moment has been long in coming. In the 1980s, while women including Rousseff worked to overthrow a military dictatorship and lay the foundation for enduring democracy, young women in southern Brazil founded the Movimento de Mulheres Trabalhadoras Rurais (Movement of Rural Women Workers—MMTR) while still in their teens. Many of them had been forced to quit school after fifth grade to help with the housework, and they refused to accept lives in which women didn’t have the same legal rights as men.
The MMTR activists convinced their mothers, who were accustomed to isolation and submission, to join them on the streets to fight for women’s rights. Together, they also took on the place most resistant to change—their own homes—by fighting for an equal voice and trying to persuade their husbands and sons to help with the housework.
Twenty-five years into this expanding struggle for women’s rights, laws promoting women’s equality are part of Brazil’s constitution and the federal government pays social security to rural women. The women responsible for these changes could have moved away to larger cities, in search of a different reality. Instead, they took on the hard work of changing their own communities and transforming Brazil’s rural towns into places where women can enjoy economic rights and have their voices heard.
The struggles these women began years ago are far from over. Their stories show the mixture of pain and tenacity that propels activism forward:
Gessi Bonês went from leading the women’s movement to running the local health department: from taking over government buildings to working inside one. Gessi’s health department colleagues asked what someone who spent her life mobilizing outside official buildings was doing inside one. “You have no education,” they told her. “You only know how to protest and make trouble, so what are you doing here?” Meanwhile, other leaders of the women’s movement told her, “If you work in the institutions, you’re not part of the movement.”
Even after she had transformed the health department, Gessi continued to wonder how she could most effectively make change, by caring for individual families or pressing for bolder goals through mass protest, and why no one around her seemed willing to let her do both. “I have two hearts,” she said.
Mônica Marchesini also struggles to balance two realities, going to women’s movement meetings even as she works from dawn until after midnight doing farm work and caring for her family. Though she believes that boys should help around the house, she also says she can’t wait until her daughter, her youngest child, grows up, so she’ll be able to help with the housework. Mônica says that she works late into the night, but that her husband needs to rest on the couch and watch TV when he gets home from work in the fields.
Monica manages to hold onto an image of the way she wants the world to be while facing daily the realities of her life as it is now.
Ivone Bonês and Vania Zamboni, a lesbian couple, say that joining the women’s movement gave them the courage to change their own lives, creating a new way of living for themselves. The two women live together in a red and white house in their small Catholic town. But even at their women’s movement meetings, Ivone and Vania say they cannot speak openly about being lesbians, though everyone knows about it. When they have suggested addressing the topic in the group newsletter or at meetings, the other leaders have been unresponsive and the conversation has ended.
Like many women’s activists, Ivone and Vania face the paradox of silence amidst speech. They have learned that speaking out is not enough to change reality—the speaker bears a responsibility to carry the speech forward.
In Brazil as in the rest of the world, reforming gender roles remains as difficult as ever, even after years of struggle. Though the women’s movement in Brazil has achieved important inroads in the fight for greater equality, it continues to struggle with paradoxes and inconsistencies even from within. Fortunately, women like Gessi, Mônica, Ivone, and Vania are learning to face these paradoxes and fight their way through them—the only way political change and equal rights for women can become a reality.
A new Brazilian law that aims to curb cyber crime will go into effect in April, as announced on Tuesday. The law, passed last year, will make cyber crimes a criminal offense with jail sentences ranging from three months to two years.
Brazil is the world’s fourth largest source of phishing, which cost local banks $700 million in 2012. Given the growth of cyber crime, there is concern that the jail sentences will not be severe enough to deter criminals who openly trade stolen information online. Limor Kessem, an expert at the leading international security firm RSA, predicts that the law will not have an effect on the level of crime until criminals start seeing their counterparts arrested and imprisoned.
Although Brazil is still considered an emerging market, 48 percent of Brazilians connect to the Internet and use online banking at a comparable rate to more developed nations. The seventh-largest economy in the world has a growing middle class—53 percent of the total population—that has propelled online banking and commerce into the mainstream. But the growth of the middle class and the resulting spike in Internet connectivity have made the country an attractive target for phishing and malware.
As Brazilian banks and businesses strengthen security measures and the government targets the hackers behind these schemes, experts fear that offenders will simply change their focus to other countries. The lack of a regional authority will make it easier to target other emerging Latin American markets as their banks and commerce become increasingly digitized. According to a recent report by the São Paulo based security company Kaspersky Lab, the lack of intraregional cooperation and legal obstacles “means that unfortunately, cyber criminals will enjoy easy money and impunity for some time."